Kristina asked if I would write a blog post on my technique for achieving the glowing outdoor window light in the photo from my last blog post.
So here it is.
I’ve had this technique in my bag for many years now, it gives a more natural feel to an environment where bright outdoor light is mixed with a darker indoor light. The idea is to simulate the very high dynamic range of indoor vs. outdoor light in the way that our eyes are used to seeing it.
I actually got the idea while shopping in my local supermarket on a sunny day. Looking outside from the (relatively) dimly lit shop the light was intensely bright. That gave me the inspiration to start trying to replicate the effect in the studio.
This technique requires two light sources (I use Nikon SB-800 Speedlites, remotely triggered, always on manual settings), one set to be your main light, and the other to be your over-exposed backlight. You’ll want this backlight to be diffused so it evenly lights your window. Why not just ramp up the power on a bare light? It’s going to be overexposed anyway? You only want your light to be a little overexposed. If you push it too much you’ll end up with light blowing out of every small crack in your scenery, or, if your scene is even slightly translucent (like LEGO bricks are!), your whole wall will start to glow.
This is my setup. I’m using a “Speedlite Pro Kit” reflector with a diffusion panel to both diffuse the light and limit spillage.
My main light is a single Speedlite into a white shoot-through umbrella. This light provides a nice soft fill for the scene.
Both of the flashes are on 1/32 power, but because of the difference in distance from the subject the main light will contribute far less light to the scene than the backlight.
This is what it looks like when shot, notice how much brighter the backlight is than the main light. This is the key to the effect.
And if we point the camera somewhere useful, this is what we end up with:
I’ve obviously cropped the image to square, but other than that this is straight out of the camera. Easy isn’t it?